Thursday, 9 November 2017 : Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate with the whole Universal Church the feast of the Dedication and Consecration of the most important church in all of Christendom, and it is indeed fitting to say that this church is the heart of the entire Christian world. Why is that so? That is because on this day, about seventeen centuries ago, the great Basilica of St. John Lateran was dedicated to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, as well as to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.

This Basilica, and not the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican, is the place where the Pope, as the Bishop of Rome and the Leader of the Universal Church, has his Cathedra, or the seat of the Bishop. And where the Cathedra is, therefore lies the Cathedral. And indeed, the Papal Basilica of St. John Lateran is the Cathedral of the Pope and the Diocese of Rome, and as such, just as the Cathedrals throughout the world are the mother churches of their own respective dioceses and archdioceses, this particular Cathedral is the Mother Church of the entire world.

Thus, on the feast day of this illustrious church, known in full as the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist at the Lateran, we rejoice together with the entire Universal Church as one united Church, for the grace of God which He had poured down onto the Church for all these years. The Cathedra of Rome in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran is the seat of the Pope’s authority, which he inherited through unbroken series of succession right from St. Peter the Apostle, the first Pope and Bishop of Rome.

And as we all know, the Lord Jesus Himself established His Church in this world and entrusted it to St. Peter the Apostle, as the leader of all the Apostles and as the Vicar entrusted by God to be His chief representative on earth, and therefore, this edifice which was established seventeen centuries ago is a representation of the foundation of the entire Church in this world, which God first established on the faith of St. Peter, the Rock of the Church.

But today’s celebration is much more than just a happy celebration of the dedication and consecration of this great Archbasilica, as the Scripture passages today pointed out the true meaning of God’s churches and the houses in which He dwell in this world. The churches of God are not just the physical buildings, the beautiful chapels, or churches, or grand Basilicas or Cathedrals of the dioceses. These are indeed part of the Church, as the Houses of God, where God Himself dwells in each of them, in the Eucharist, in the Tabernacle.

For we all believe that the Lord Himself is truly present in our churches, housed in the Tabernacle, where the bread consecrated by the priests, whose authority eventually came from Christ through St. Peter and the Apostles, had become the Most Precious Body and the Real Presence of our Lord. As such, God Himself dwells in the churches, as the new Temples of God, no longer just like the Temple of Jerusalem of old.

In the past, the Lord dwelled in Jerusalem, in the Temple that king Solomon built for Him, which was destroyed by the Babylonians and then rebuilt after many years, as the Temple which existed at the time of Jesus. He was in the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctum of the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet, what we have today is far greater than that, for God Himself has come upon us in Jesus Christ, His Son, revealing Himself to the whole world, to all those who believe in Him and accept Him as Lord and Saviour.

And we believe this because, the Lord Himself is fully present in our churches and places of sacred worship, be it from the grandest and largest churches, Basilicas and Cathedrals, to the smallest, least and simplest of chapels which have been dedicated for the purpose of sacred worship. The dedication of a church signify the official marking and recognition given to the edifice and place, that it is now worthy of the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass, and dedicated to either Our Lord Himself, or to His mother Mary, or to one or more of His many saints.

For on the altar of the church, the same sacrifice which Our Lord Jesus Christ lovingly offered for the sake of our redemption is enacted, not a recollection, nor it is a repeat, and neither a mere remembrance or memory, but instead the one and very same actual Sacrifice which occurred two millennia ago at Calvary, when Our Lord willingly accept death on the cross, condemned as a criminal, so that through that death, He might redeem many, those who believed and accepted Him, from their sins.

And in that Sacrifice, God Himself has given His own Most Precious Body and Blood, which through the priestly authority given to our priests today, have transformed the mere bread and wine into the very Real Presence of Our God. Thus that is why we consecrate and dedicate the churches to the Lord, for these must be truly holy places, of special sanctity in order for they to be worthy of being the place where God Himself dwells, His Real Presence in the new Temples, our churches.

And today, as we rejoice together remembering the day when the greatest of these physical Temples, the churches, that is the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, is dedicated to God, all of us should also use this time to reflect on two very important matters that all of us will need to pay close attention to. First of all, it is regarding how we ought to behave and participate in the churches, and secondly, with regards to our alternative first reading today from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, for all of us baptised Christians that we are all the Temples of God as well.

Thus, first of all, let us all reflect on how we have behaved thus far in the church during the Holy Mass, during Adoration and Benediction sessions, and during any other liturgical functions, or even during any other times when we are just present in the church for prayers or silent contemplation. How many of us chatted unnecessarily during the Holy Mass, or during times when we ought to be silent, or to be participated during singing of hymns and prayers?

How many of us are distracting ourselves with the use of mobile phones, apps and all the other things that we should not be doing in the Mass? Yet, even though we know that God is truly present in the Eucharist, and stored in the Tabernacle that He is still always present even after the Mass and throughout the day, we did all sorts of things that we should not have done in the presence of God, in His House. And that is how we relate to what we have just heard in our Gospel passage today.

Jesus cast out the merchants and money changers from the Temple of God in Jerusalem, chasing them all out with a whip, turning over their tables and scattering off all their coins and transactions, cattle and animals they were selling for the sacrifices at the Temple. Why did Jesus do that? That is because, He was rightful to be very angry at what those merchants and money changers had done, and to a certain extent, the priests of the Temple as well.

Those people were cheating the people from their money, by charging them extra expensive for the services and for the purchase of animal sacrifices and other things, gaining profits in the process. And the priests and the Temple allowed such heinous acts to continue in the hallowed House of God. No wonder Jesus was angry at them all, having made the House of God, His Father, to be a den of robbers and wicked men, committing sins right before God’s presence.

In the same manner therefore, when we are in the presence of God in the church, from the grandest Basilicas and Cathedrals to the smallest and simplest of chapels, do we truly realise that He is there, and because He is truly present in all of those places, then we ought to keep the place holy through genuine reverence and prayerful silence? Sadly, there are many Christians who did not do this, and it scandalises our faith because there are many who had said that they do not believe in God, because they themselves witnessed that Christians had not done what they should.

Imagine, brothers and sisters in Christ, how are we to persuade others to believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, if they see many of us disrespecting the Lord in the Eucharist, either by receiving Him unworthily, or without due respect, or receiving Him half-heartedly as if we are no different from queueing to get our fast food meal from the many fast food chains out there. Is this how we should behave? If we do not do what we must, then not only that we have neglected our responsibilities, but we may have also turned many others from God’s salvation as well.

And secondly, and more importantly, what I want each and every one of us to realise and internalise is the fact that, each and every one of us who have validly received the Sacrament of Baptism and Initiation, have been made God’s Temple, as the Lord Himself in the completeness of His Holy Trinity has been received in us, dwelling in our very own bodies, hearts, minds, and our entire beings.

If I have mentioned how we must keep the great sanctity in the churches, chapels, Cathedrals and Basilicas and the grave consequences should we fail to do that, then we have to remember that all these, which are physical human products of building and construction, pale in comparison in the physical term, as compared to each and every one of us, mankind, who have been crafted and constructed by none other than God Himself, and we have also been made in the very image of God no less.

We are the perfect Sanctuaries and Temples of God’s Holy Presence, which have once been defiled by sin, by all the immoralities and all the wickedness we have committed. But through the waters of baptism, we have been cleansed and the Lord has entered into ourselves, dwelling in our very own being. Thus, each and every one of us, in accordance with what St. Paul also reminded us in the Epistle, ‘Do you not know that all of you are God’s Temple?’, must live a life that is righteous and free from all forms of sins.

Otherwise, God will severely punish those who desecrate the sanctity of this Holy Temple, and every sin is a corruption that desecrates the sanctity of this Holy Temple that is our body, our mind, our heart, and our whole being. In reality, it is indeed difficult for us to sustain a pure life, free from sin, as we are always tempted all the time, to sin and to disobey God. Yet, the free will and choice have been given to us by God. We are free to choose to continue to sin and do what is wicked in the sight of God, or to do what is right, and repent wholeheartedly from the sins we have committed.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, I cannot stress any less, that it is important for us all Christians to recognise that each and every one of us are sinners, and as we have sinned, we must strive to do what is right and just in the sight of God. And we are called to go to confession regularly and receive the Sacrament of Penance as often as we can, so that the taints of sin and its corruption will not continue to defile the sanctity of the Temple of God in our body, heart, mind and our whole being.

Let us all then, from now on, strive to live a true Christian life, by devoting ourselves to God, deepening our relationship with Him through prayer and charity, by loving others, our brothers and sisters who are in need, giving our time, attention, love, care, compassion and help wherever it is needed. May the Lord help each and every one of us, to keep the sanctity of the Temples of His Holy Presence, that all of us as Christians will be worthy Houses of God, where He dwells, just as He dwells in all of our chapels, churches, Basilicas and Cathedrals. Amen.

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